Jimmy Cross in The Things They Carried

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English from Mississippi State University. She holds a Mississippi AA Educator License.

Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is the young, inexperienced leader of Alpha Company in Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried.' Cross's youth, inexperience, and poor judgment sometimes have disastrous results for the men, though Jimmy Cross accepts responsibility for his ineptitude.

Going to War

Young and inexperienced, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross leads Alpha Company in Vietnam in The Things They Carried. As an undergraduate, Cross had signed up for Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) as a way to pick up a few extra credits in college. Because of this decision, he is placed in a position of leadership in Vietnam. Nonetheless, Jimmy Cross is ill-equipped to lead.


For one thing, Jimmy Cross spends inordinate amounts of time thinking about a girl back home named Martha. He carries a photograph of Martha, and he soon becomes so obsessed with his fantasies of the girl that he begins to have trouble focusing on the war.

'His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing.'

When Lee Strunk enters a tunnel to clear it, Cross finds his mind wandering to Martha. He knows that he should pay attention, but he cannot seem to shake the fantasies of Martha.

Later, when Ted Lavender is shot after stepping off the field to urinate, Cross blames himself for the death. 'He pictured Martha's smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her.' After this incident, Jimmy Cross burns the photographs of Martha in an attempt to stop obsessing about her.


Eventually, Kiowa is killed as a result of Jimmy Cross's poor judgment. Cross is a relatively new officer, and he sets up camp at the coordinates called for in his orders. This location, unfortunately, turned out to be a field of sewage. When the Song Tra Bong River floods during the night, the field becomes a bog. Kiowa is killed that night, and his body is sucked into the field.

The next day, as the men search the field for Kiowa's body, a young, unnamed soldier attempts to confess his guilt to Jimmy Cross. The young soldier believes that Kiowa was killed by the enemy when he turned his flashlight on to show Kiowa a photograph. '… For several moments Jimmy Cross stood very still, afraid to move, yet knowing he had to, and then he murmured to himself, 'My fault,' and he nodded and waded out across the field toward the boy.'

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Jimmy Cross in The Things They Carried Quiz

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What does Jimmy Cross do to become a better leader after Ted Lavender's death in The Things They Carried?

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